Delhi is not much accessible and connected for its residents

If all settlements of Delhi – planned and unplanned -- are not equally well connected with public transport services and are not made accessible, the capital will fail to implement fully its sustainable, low-emission forms of travel.


New Delhi: Unplanned, low-income areas in Delhi have very limited access to affordable and efficient public transport services. Planned and richer areas are comparatively better connected but are still not up to the mark. If all settlements of Delhi – planned and unplanned -- are not equally well connected with public transport services and are not made accessible, the capital will fail to implement fully its sustainable, low-emission forms of travel.


This is the conclusion of a new report, How accessible are low-income settlements: The case of Delhi, released here today by the Centre for Science and Environment.

As per the estimates of the draft Delhi Master Plan 2041, the city’s population will be 27-30 million by 2014, and 50 per cent of this increase will happen due to migration. By then, Delhi would generate 46.2 million motorised trips daily. “If such a massive load of daily motorised travel trips are not shifted to public transport to achieve the MPD 2041 target of a modal split of 80:20 in favour of public and shared transport, Delhi will remain locked in pollution and carbon trap,” says CSE executive director Anumita Roychowdhury.


“This requires immediate improvement in neighbourhood scale accessibility to bus and metro services and minimisation of interchanges. The expectation of MPD 2041 is that 50 per cent of Delhi’s population will be within the influence zone of mass transit by 2041 and mixed-use development will encourage the shift towards public transport, which can be fulfilled only if neighbourhood-level design and infrastructure improvements for safe and efficient access,” she adds.


This study is a ground-level assessment of infrastructure for accessibility in 16 settlements in the southern part of Delhi. It includes neighbourhoods of varying economic status. This assessment has a special focus on the vulnerable urban poor. The settlements have been selected based on the Master Plan of Delhi 2021 classification of settlements that are technically classified as “planned” and “unplanned”.


These diverse settlements include unauthorised colonies that have been subsequently regularised such as Tughlakabad Extension, Tigri Extension, Govindpuri, Kalkaji, Khanpur, Pooth Kalan and Khirki Extension; resettlement colonies like Garhi and Zamrudpur in East of Kailash; and slum clusters like Jawaharlal Nehru Camp in Kalkaji. There are also villages that have become part of the urban system like Shahpur Jat and Tughlakabad village. This assessment also includes planned settlements with neighbourhoods of higher-income groups including East of Kailash, Kailash Colony, Greater Kailash and Chittaranjan Park.


While it is challenging to quantify the differences in absolute terms, indicators have been derived from national policies, guidelines, service-level benchmarks, the Ease of Living Index of the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, and a few global indexes related to liveability and accessibility – the aim was to broadly assess the qualitative differences between settlements. This is a rapid diagnostic study of equity of access, ease and affordability of movement and what determines access in different settlements.

“These indicators bring out the relative differences in local conditions related to transport, mobility patterns and connectivity, the status of infrastructure and services, accessibility, and the increase in interchanges due to poor connectivity that has a bearing on journey costs,” says Anannya Das, deputy programme manager with the sustainable mobility programme at CSE.


Quite predictably, the planned settlements and higher-income neighbourhoods perform better on most criteria compared to unplanned settlements dominated by the poor. But even planned colonies fall short of the benchmark for accessibility as provided in guidelines and standards and are deficient in public transport-oriented design. This is inciting dependence on personal vehicles in these neighbourhoods.


On the other hand, unplanned colonies are hugely burdened with legacy problems as they have grown incrementally and without any planning support. They are already very densely built with hugely constrained infrastructure. There is barely any space left to manoeuvre as all vacant and open spaces have ceased to exist.


The planned formal public transport network is more accessible in planned settlements. Low-income unplanned colonies depend on informal and shared IPT like Grameen Sewa to access other systems and services. This adds to the cost as well as the hardships faced by these settlements as these systems do not necessarily penetrate deep due to infrastructure limitations. These modes also have huge route restrictions.


On the criterion of how people move and access services and amenities inside settlement clusters, most of the settlements do not have adequate amenities and services like schools, markets, ATMs, convenience stores, pharmacies, etc. within the neighbourhood. As densely built unplanned settlements have limited land availability, and the quality of infrastructure does not comply with applicable design standards, people are forced to depend on mobility services to access several services beyond the neighbourhood. This increases (motorised) transportation requirements as the services are not within walkable distances. In fact, planned areas have 1.3 times better intra-neighbourhood accessibility than unplanned areas.


On the criterion of ‘status of accessibility infrastructure within neighbourhoods’, all areas fall short of meeting the requirements of infrastructure for all street activities for safe access and connectivity. Unplanned areas are impacted more. Higher-income planned settlements have about 1.8 times more infrastructure than unplanned settlements. Streets of high-income areas are 1.7 times more walkable, IPT penetration in these areas is 1.9 times higher, and the sense of safety is 1.7 times higher.


A different policy approach for retrofitting change to improve access and services will be needed in settlements. Even though several policies have emerged that have bearing on equitable urban planning including National Habitat Standards, Transit-Oriented Development Policy, Service-level Benchmarks at the Central level and Delhi Master Plan integrating several sustainability criteria, the framework for implementation is weak. This requires policy focus on local area improvement to make accessibility across settlements – both unplanned and unplanned -- more efficient and affordable.